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Masculine Vulnerability

In Brene Brown's TED talk, "Listening to Shame", she talks about the power of shame. It's a speech that is widely popular among women. But towards the end of her address, she shares an observation a man made to her about shame and gender - 'Men are just as controlled by shame because we're ashamed of weakness'. 

It would only appear that men are shameless. But it turns out they're just as afraid of being shamed as much as anyone else. It's just their shame has one specific dimension - a man is desperately afraid of appearing weak, helpless, and dependent. And a man would rather isolate himself than expose himself to anything that appears like weakness.

This rings true with me. In eastern and western culture, masculine vulnerability is frowned upon. Men don't show weakness because weakness and manhood are incompatible. In eastern culture, sharing weakness, pain, sadness or failure is a threat to community. Vulnerability risks eroding the community's confidence of male leadership. In western culture, vulnerability is a threat to the individual. It is a personal attack on the strength of the man.

Roissy, a shining star of the manosphere, gives tips on offering being vulnerable with women. Most of them are insightful but the gist is this: Share some detailed (and possibly fabricated) but insipid flaw in order to appease a woman's desire for connection. But never disclose a deep fear that would give a woman the power to hurt you.

I get it. If your self-worth is so fragile that a woman might crush it under the weight of her rejection and disapproval, you are indeed wise to protect your ego at all costs.

Enter the paradox of Christianity. When we are weak, Christ is strong. When we are most vulnerable, our potential for kingdom impact is greatest. When we are unprotected and exposed, we create space for the grace of Jesus to invade. Weakness invites God's strength.

Brown says humanity is designed for connection. I could not agree more. We are made for relationship. But she also emphasizes vulnerability is NOT weakness and that's not entirely true. Vulnerability is not the same as weakness but they're brothers.

Vulnerability is the courage to share weakness.

The underlying assumption in vulnerability is that everyone has weakness. Every person has hidden fears, flaws, pain and brokenness. Vulnerability is powerful because of the assumption of weakness - it means the key to connection with another person is to share weakness. Vulnerability creates bonding because two beings empathize to a core elements of being - fear, sadness, and pain.

Below are three attributes of masculine vulnerability -

Weakness in the context of strength: Vulnerability is never self-pity. It is not a rationalization of failure. Vulnerability is the courage to risk yourself to connect with another person.

You share weakness because you know your strength comes from outside of yourself. You share weakness because you have confidence in more than your own talents and strengths. You share weakness because your self-worth is built on the actions of the Son of God, who loved you and gave himself on your behalf. You share weakness because you know connection is possible because of it and you recognize an act of vulnerability can benefit others as much as it benefits you.

It is so difficult for me to be vulnerable in mundane things. At night after the kids are in bed, I may want to talk with Judy but I seldom come out and say, "I would love to talk with you tonight". Instead, I busy myself on the computer, hoping she'll make a bid for my attention. I'm too scared of being rejected. It's hard for us to find times to talk but it's harder for me to admit to her that I want to - and more as something for myself than for her.

One of the greatest displays of vulnerability I've witnessed is from pastor Steve Clifford in his first sermon following the death of his son. He was brutally honest about how he questioned God's intentions after the event. He shared how difficult the past weeks had been and the soul-searching he and his wife went through. And yet there was an incredible strength evident in him. It takes tremendous courage as a respected Christian leader to get up in front of thousands of people and confess your doubts about God's providence. He did not eschew his responsibilities nor did he rationalize or qualify any of his responses. He did not hide the reality of his pain nor did he wallow in despair. That's masculine vulnerability.

Unconditionality:  Masculine vulnerability does not exaggerate one's weakness as a play on others' sympathies.  It does not exaggerate, pander, or beg. It is not a bid for attention or a desperate plea for sympathy. Vulnerability as a means of obtaining another's approval is emotional prostitution. Instead of selling your body, you're selling your heart. You pay people with your secrets in order to get attention in return. 

In Christian circles, it's easy to mistake emotional prostitution for vulnerability. We think we're being open but we're just trying to impress other people with our religiosity and wanting to elicit sympathy from others. I hear about guys sharing their life story to girls they just met. Way over-share. It's desperate and shows no self-respect.

Masculine vulnerability has wisdom and self-control. You need to be careful who you share with and what you share. Masculine vulnerability is based on male friendship. If, as a straight male, you can't share weakness with other guy friends, you need to learn that first. I remember some time ago, a male visitor came to our coed small group and confessed his problem with lust and seeing women as objects. Amazingly awkward. It was an important confession but none of us knew him and it was an inappropriate context. 

Most of all, masculine vulnerability is loving. You don't expect anything in return. You don't expect people to respond positively. You put yourself out there and people may respond as they please. Your sharing begs a response but you cannot demand it. If you share weakness as a demand, you will be disappointed. 

Desperate vulnerability: And then there are the times when vulnerability cannot, will not, and should not happen in the context of strength and unconditionality. It is when vulnerability shows up in its rawest form - a cry for mercy, a longing for justice, and a plea for help. It is vulnerability in the moment when we are overwhelmed by our frailty and overcome by our struggle. That's when we go to God the Father in desperation, because our lives depend on Him. It is the kind of vulnerability that was modeled by His son.
Luke 22:41-43   He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.


  1. Wow, this hits spot-on on things I've been thinking about over the past year or so. I really enjoyed this, Fred.


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